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The Basics of Slow Cooking
Here are some useful facts and tips about
- They are economical, as they generally use less energy to cook
the same amount of food as other methods. The heat produced is also
much less, which is great in summer.
- You can use a slow cooker to prepare a really healthy tasty
meal, as they don't usually require oil, and can be made up mostly
of fresh veggies- with lean meat added if desired- with herbs and
spices to create a wide variety of flavours.
- Pre-plan for a busy schedule by chopping up the ingredients the
night before and storing directly in the stoneware bowl, in the
fridge, ready to cook the next day.
- The extreme slow cooking results in tougher (cheaper) meat cuts
ending up lovely and tender.
- The low cooking temperature allows you more freedom in when you
eat, as it doesn't tend to overcook or burn the meal, so it can stay
hot until your family or guests are ready to eat.
- All the delicious juices remain in the dish. Healthy vegetable
water isn't lost in draining, as in when cooked in a saucepan.
- Unless instructed to do so by a recipe, don't lift the lid of
your slow cooker as they take a while to reach the proper
temperature, and this is lost when the lid is removed. Also, a lot
of necessary moisture can also be lost.
- You should fill your slow cooker about one third to half full
for optimum cooking.
- A lot of root vegetables are slower to cook than meat, so should
be placed in the bottom of the slow cooker. Quicker cooking
ingredients, such as seafood, frozen veggies, quick cook veggies
such as broccoli and dairy, should always be on top, and usually
only added for the last half hour or so.
- Try to cut your ingredients in similar size pieces- or allow for
size variation depending on required cooking time of each
ingredient- so that they will cook in the same timespan.
- Meats are often better browned quickly in a frypan first,
especially if you want the browned appearance in your meal.
- Begin your cooking on a high heat, to get the slow cooker up to
temperature (which is important especially if meat is being cooked)
and then reduce heat for the remainder of the time.
- Never pour cold water straight into a hot slow cooker bowl to
clean as it may crack. Add warm water or allow to cool first.
- When purchasing a slow cooker, look for one with a removable liner.
They are much easier to clean. If you have a nonremovable liner,
however, all is not lost! Line your slow cooker with a cooking bag and
you'll have no cleanup at all. Spray the inside of the liner with
cooking spray before you fill it to make cleanup easier.
- 60C(140F) is the temperature the food needs to reach as quickly
as possible. If you are at home during the cooking times, test the
food temperature after four hours of cooking on LOW - the temp
should be at least 60C(140F). If it isn't, there's a problem with
your slow cooker and you should get a new one.
- For food safety reasons, it's a good idea to cook on HIGH for
the first hour to quickly bring the temperature up to 60C(140F).
Then turn the dial to LOW and finish cooking.
- The LOW setting is about 77C(170F), and the HIGH setting is about
93C(200F). Note that both of these temps are well above the minimum
safe temperature of 60C(140F).
- Experts recommend you do not put frozen foods in the slow cooker.
All foods should be defrosted before cooking so the food temperature
can reach 60C(140F) as soon as possible. However, since none of my
family members are in a high-risk group, I often cook frozen foods
in the slow cooker. The informed choice is up to you.
- 1 hour on HIGH is equal to two hours on LOW.
- Remove cooked food from the slow cooker or liner before you
refrigerate the cooked food. Because the liner is made of such thick
material, the food won't cool down quickly enough to prevent the
growth of harmful bacteria.
Slow Cooker General Cooking Tips
- Only fill the slow cooker one half to two thirds full. The foods
will not cook properly if the appliance is filled to the brim. If
the food and liquid level is lower, the foods will cook too quickly.
- Foods cooked on the bottom of the slow cooker cook faster and
will be moister because they are immersed in the simmering liquid.
- Remove skin from poultry, and trim excess fat from meats. Fats
will melt with long cooking times, and will add an unpleasant
texture to the finished dish. Fatty foods will also cook too
- You can thicken the juices and concentrate flavours by removing
the lid and cooking on HIGH for the last half hour of cooking time.
- Most meats require 8 hours of cooking on LOW. Use cheaper cuts
of meat - not only do you save money, but these meats work better in
the slow cooker. Cheaper cuts of meat have less fat, which makes
them more suited to slow cooker cooking. Moist, long cooking times
result in very tender meats.
- Follow the layering instructions carefully. Vegetables do not
cook as quickly as meat, so they should be placed in the bottom of
- Don't lift the lid to stir, especially if you are cooking on the
low setting. Each time you lift the lid, enough heat will escape
that the cooking time should be extended by 20 minutes to half an
hour. To check progress without lifting the lid, spin the cover
until the condensation falls off. Then it's easy to see inside.
- For best results, ground meats must be cooked in a skillet
before cooking in the slow cooker.
- Seafood should be added during the last hour of cooking time, or
it will overcook and have a rubbery texture.
- Large pieces of meat can be browned before cooking in the
slow cooker, but this step isn't necessary. Browning adds colour and
helps in flavour development.
- Cayenne pepper and tabasco sauce tend to become bitter if cooked
for long periods of time. Use small amounts and add toward the end
of the cooking time.
- Add tender vegetables like tomatoes, mushrooms and courgette during the last 45 minutes of cooking time so they don't overcook.
- Dairy products should be added during the last 30 minutes of
cooking time, unless the recipes states otherwise.
- Liquids do not boil away in the slow cooker, so if you are making a
recipe that wasn't specifically developed for the slow cooker, reduce
the liquid by ⅓ to ½ unless you are cooking rice or making soup.
- Stir in spices for the last hour of cooking. They will lose
flavour if cooked with the rest of the ingredients for the long
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